Sunday, December 31, 2017

Make Love Your Aim in 2018

Image result for john piippo love
In Little Italy. New York City

My prayer, for myself, is that my heart would be transformed into a heart of love that goes beyond self-love and friend-love to enemy-love. 

That Jesus' words would be more completely fulfilled, in me: 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)

Happy New Year!






My new book is Leading the Presence-Driven Church.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Pastors Among the Unthinking Herd (The Presence-Driven Church)


(My book Leading the Presence-Driven Church was published last week.)

The warning Paul issues in Romans 12:1-2 concerns the shape of our hearts; viz., that we not be world-conformed. This is relevant in every age, and especially so in today's America, where the invasion of secularity has captured and shaped the hearts of the masses. Many Christians, and many pastors, have joined the ranks of the unthinking Kierkegaardian herd.

In the midst of this nihilistic wasteland God raises up prophetic voices, even speaking from the grave. One of them is Henri Nouwen. In The Way of the Heart he writes:

"Our society is not a community radiant with the love of Christ, but a dangerous network of domination and manipulation in which we can easily get entangled and lose our soul. The basic question is whether we ministers of Jesus Christ have not already been so deeply molded by the seductive powers of our dark world that we have become blind to our own and other people’s fatal state and have lost the power and motivation to swim for our lives."
(Nouwen, The Spiritual Life: Eight Essential Titles, Kindle Locations 893-896)

Nouwen sees the manifestations of pastoral captivity. They include:

  • Pastors are too busy with meetings, visits, many services to lead. Pastors move through life in a distracted way, rarely stopping to ask if any of this busyness is worth thinking, saying, or doing.
  • Pastors have become advertisers who must motivate people to come to church, who must make sure the youth are entertained, who must raise money to keep the infrastructure going, and above all, pastors need to see that everyone is happy.
  • Pastors have become "busy people just like all other busy people, rewarded with the rewards which are rewarded to busy people." (Ib., K899)
  • Pastors have lost their real identity in Christ, and have morphed into affirmation addicts: "Who am I? I am the one who is liked, praised, admired, disliked, hated or despised." (Ib., K906)
  • What matters to many pastors today is not what God thinks of them, but how they are perceived by the world.
Nouwen saw anger in pastoral leaders, coming from culture-shaped hearts that have taken on the consumer values of the world. He writes:

"Anger in particular seems close to a professional vice in the contemporary ministry. Pastors are angry at their leaders for not leading and at their followers for not following. They are angry at those who do not come to church for not coming and angry at those who do come for coming without enthusiasm. They are angry at their families, who make them feel guilty, and angry at themselves for not being who they want to be. This is not an open, blatant, roaring anger, but an anger hidden behind the smooth word, the smiling face, and the polite handshake. It is a frozen anger, an anger which settles into a biting resentment and slowly paralyzes a generous heart. If there is anything that makes the ministry look grim and dull, it is this dark, insidious anger in the servants of Christ. (Ib., K919-923)

Are things really that bad in ministry? I think so. I've taught my spiritual formation materials to four thousand pastors, and Nouwen's insights resonate with me. And, I have discovered the seeds of secularity in my own heart.

The warning the apostle Paul gives against world-conformity is real, and the entrapment is subtle. It doesn't happen overnight. One morning a pastor can wake up and sense that something has gone wrong in his or her heart. They realize, following Nouwen, that they are passengers on a ship that is sinking.

Nouwen's counsel, and mine as well, is: Jump ship! Swim for your life! Run to the place of your salvation, which is the place of solitude and presence of God. Reside there, and be transformed into Christlikeness by the renewing of your mind. (This is why the Desert Fathers went to the desert in the first place.)

Friday, December 29, 2017

Remembering as an Eschatological Event

3012 20th Ave., Rockford, Illinois
(Add remembering to your prayer life.)

I was born in Michigan's Upper Peninsula (Hancock). My parents moved to Rockford, Illinois, when I was a year old.

Whenever I return to Rockford I like to walk in my old neighborhood. I've done this many times, carrying my journal + camera with me. I walked it again this past summer.

We lived in the last house on a cul-de-sac - our address was 3012 20th Avenue. I have never forgot our phone number - 399-7931. Adjacent to our house was 25th Street Park. I loved that park! I remember the countless hours I played there with my friends. 

That was the late 1950s and 1960s.

I am thankful for my childhood. I could not wait for school to end and summer to begin! I had fun, adventure, and growth that was non-media-driven. We did have TV, but only three stations, and reception depended on which way the antenna on the roof was pointing. I played from sun-up to sundown. I can hear my mother's voice calling me in the dark - "John, it's time to come in!"

My parents have died, but as I walk down 20th Avenue, I remember. I smell my mother's cooking. We rarely ate out. For me that was no loss, since I'll eat from my parents' table any time. Mom loved to cook, and loved to watch us enjoy her cooking. A lot of her esteem came from providing and home-making. She taught me how to make mashed potatoes. I've never met a mashed potato that measured up to my mom's. Her cooking was like encountering Platonic Forms by which all shadowy, insubstantial culinary efforts were to be measured.

I walk to Rolling Green School, where I went from kindergarten through 4th grade. Then to Whitehead Elementary School. Then, Jefferson Junior High School. Finally, to Rockford East High. Whitehead and Jefferson were brand new when I was there. Now, they have aged. Everything here is older. I see the same trees, but they are bigger. 

One year my father brought a small pine tree he dug up from the family farm in the Upper Peninsula. He planted it at 3012 20th Avenue. It was so small I could jump over it. Now, sixty  years later, it's tall. I walk past it, pick a pine cone, and take it with me back to Michigan. One of these pine cones made it to my office in our church building. I left it there for years. On occasion I held it and thought of my father and mother and family. It is good to do this. Never forget where you are from.

Remembering is sweet for me. I know that's not so for everyone, but it is for me. Therefore, I remember. 


  • I remember my loving, hard-working parents. 
  • I remember how they looked after me and fed me and clothed me. 
  • I remember my mother taking me to a store named Goldblatt's to buy a shirt and a pair of jeans. 
  • I remember my father, every winter, making an ice rink in our back yard. 
  • I remember every square inch of that small yard I mowed and played in. 
  • I remember my mother making "pasties" and fruit pies. 
  • I remember my father hitting baseballs to me in the park.
  •  I remember my neighborhood friends. 
  • I remember the cracks in the sidewalk on 20th Avenue. 
  • I remember going to our Lutheran Church, and having my father as a Sunday School teacher. 
  • I remember the smell of the brand new '55 Chevy dad bought - two-tone green. 
  • I remember our pet dog "Candy." 
  • I remember sharing a bedroom with my brother Mike.

Spiritually, "remembering" is foundational. Remembering is core Judeo-Christian activity. This is not about "nostalgia." I don't dwell on the past, or long for a return to it. For me, my many returns to walk in the old neighborhood are sacred. Holy. "Holy" means: "set apart." A tiny, mundane piece of earth becomes the center of the universe, the place where God manifests his glory and presence.

Remembering, as essential covenantal activity, is not really about the past. My memory-walk down 20th Avenue is an eschatological event. To understand the future, to have real hope, one must remember the past, and where one was born and came from. I am a hopeful person today because of a childhood filled with days of expectancy. As I walk these earthly streets I think of the new heaven and new earth that is to come. It will be a safe, loving, playful and adventurous place. My entire family will be there.

I remember Christ, and what God in Jesus has done for me. 

I remember the "rescue." I remember what the Lord has done. 

"The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy." (Ps. 126:3)

Remembering creates expectation. Expectation has to do with hope. Hope is future-oriented.

When I pray, I remember the deeds of the Lord, done unto me.

***
My just-published book is Leading the Presence-Driven Church.

What Is Man, That You Are Mindful of Him?







I look up at your macro-skies, dark and enormous,

    your handmade sky-jewelry,
Moon and stars mounted in their settings.
    Then I look at my micro-self and wonder,
Why do you bother with us?
    Why take a second look our way?


- Psalm 8:4, The Message

(Thanks Tim P., for linking me to this.)

My new book is Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Thursday, December 28, 2017

What Makes a Pastor Credible (The Presence-Driven Church)


In my new book Leading the Presence-Driven Church I make the case for the primordiality of experience and encounter with God. Our first order of being, before theologizing and theorizing, is knowing God, by experience and feeling.

Such knowing is to be ongoing. Knowing God by experience is in the continuous tense. Today, now, I know the Lord.

In my book I wrote about pastor-colleagues who live in the ongoing knowledge of the Lord. As much as I might admire their reflections on their experiences, I am more captured by the experiences themselves, sans interpretation. Ongoing experiential knowing of the Lord makes them credible witnesses to the Lord.

These presence-driven leaders trust in the Lord with all their heart, and experience God making straight their paths. Dallas Willard writes:

"Credibility in any sort of spiritual leadership derives from a life in the Spirit, from the person’s personal encounter and ongoing relationship with God." (Willard, Hearing God Through the Year: A 365-Day Devotional, p. 25)

The People are Listeners in the Presence-Driven Church


Listening is the first thing. Before acting, listen. Listen, before you speak. (I explain more in my new book Leading the Presence-Driven Church.)

We celebrated our family Christmas Sunday night with Dan, Allie, Josh, and his friend Nicole. last evening. On Saturday I went out into the snow and cold and bought food for the evening. 

Linda wrote a list. The list is the voice of Linda. At the grocery store, I looked at the list before I put things in the cart. The list came before the purchase. This is how it is with the Presence-Driven Church. First, God speaks. We listen. Then, we obey.

First, hear from God. Then, respond as indicated. In the Presence-Driven Church this is for all the people, not just the pastor. Pastors do this, and show their people how to do this. In the Presence-Driven Church all the people are listening for the voice of God, in counsel and direction.

This is the core. This is not an add-on, something that is OK but peripheral. To learn to listen for God's voice is to discover the mother lode. Without this, we're just holding fool's gold.

Adam McHugh writes:

"Throughout the Bible listening is the central act of the people of God. They are those who are gathered and formed by his voice and held together by his word. They hear his promises and judgments, instructions and warnings, reassurances and exhortations." (McHugh, The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction, Kindle Locations 38- 40)

The Hebrew word shema means "listen." This is the first word in the core wisdom of Judaism: Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.

Hear, before you do. This ancient wisdom, when lived and applied, slows things down. The Presence-Driven Church is a slow-cooking, simmering stew of auditory acuteness. In this mixture, disciples are formed, followers are fashioned. "Make disciples," said Jesus. To do that, Slow Church is required.

Pastors - get into God's presence and listen. Teach your people to do the same. Listen to what God is saying to your people, through your people. 

***

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Presence-Driven Church Abandons Man-made Organizational Structures

Image may contain: tree, plant, sky, outdoor and nature
Path to the river in my back yard
In The Purpose-Driven Church Rick Warren got a lot of things right. I think Warren would agree with me that "presence" precedes "purpose" ("purpose" comes out of "presence"). In my new book Leading the Presence-Driven Church I explain and develop this idea.

Here is one of Warren's insights, relevant to the Presence-Driven Church.

 "Let me ask you to consider this question: What do the words committees, elections, majority rule, boards, board members, parliamentary procedures, voting, and vote have in common? None of these words are found in the New Testament! We have imposed an American form of government on the church and, as a result, most churches are as bogged down in bureaucracy as our government is. It takes forever to get anything done. Man-made organizational structures have prevented more churches from healthy growth than any of us could imagine."

- Rick Warren,
The Purpose-Driven Church, p. 377


I meet pastors who are in The System, operating according to its rules while oblivious to its existence. (I think of Kierkegaard's critique of Hegel, and the Danish Church.)

Other pastors love The System, and their place in The Hierarchy. They cherish the power and control, and are threatened should others begin rising to the top.

And, in interactions with pastor-leaders, I have heard the frustration, even despair, of some who came to lead churches that were captive to man-made organizational structures, and the pain and difficulty of escaping this systemic disaster. In my book I show a way out of this.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

'Twas the Day After Christmas

Chapel in the Lutheran Home, Monroe
Today is December 26. I'm in our home office reading. Linda is working in the kitchen. She has put some Christmas music on. Our house is filled with the beautiful sound of the truest worship music this side of heaven.

The day after Christmas is important for all who follow Jesus. How we spend our time, talents, and resources today signifies who, and what, we believe in.

Linda and I live in the overflow of the birth of Christ. Christ is the gift that keeps on taking, and giving. 

Today, Christ is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, reconciling us to our Creator.

Today, our sorrow is traded for His joy.

Today, our imprisonment is acquitted on all counts, and His freedom is bestowed.

Today, Christ takes and gives. Today is a day of taking and giving.

The Incarnation is the pivot upon which our lives turn. Because of Christmas, we will never be the same. As splendid as Christmas Day was, today is better. The long winter waiting has ended. The long-expected Messiah has come. 

Today, He is wonderful.

Today, He is counselor.

Today, he is Mighty God.

Today, He is everlasting Father.

Today, He is Prince of Peace.

Decades ago, Linda and I met Him. And everything in our lives changed. Christmas, the day of endless taking and giving, began, in us. Christmas, with all its transcendent realities, was born. 

Christ-mass. 

The worship of Christ. 

It's December 26, and the real celebration goes on in the hearts of all who have been found by Him.



***
My two books are:


Monday, December 25, 2017

My Book - Now Available at Amazon.com (Leading the Presence-Driven Church)




My book Leading the Presence-Driven Church is finally available, in paperback, here at amazon.com.

The Kindle book should be available soon.













Contents 

Chapter 1 Introduction 

Chapter 2 The Case for Experience

Chapter 3 The “Presence Motif” 

Chapter 4 Presence Comes Before Purpose and Programs 

Chapter 5 How to Experience God’s Presence

Chapter 6 The Marks of a Presence-Driven Church 

Chapter 7 The Language of the Presence-Driven Church 

Chapter 8 Leading the Presence-Driven Church 

Chapter 9 God’s Presence Will Win the Day 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Violent Night (The Real Christmas Story)



Monroe

In Revelation 12:1-7 we have an alternative nativity story. Eugene Peterson writes:  “This is not the nativity story we grew up with, but it is the nativity story all the same.” (Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination, 121)

This is why C.S. Lewis referred to the birth of Christ as an act of war. Christmas, said Lewis, is about "The Great Invasion." In chapter 7 of Mere Christianity he writes:

"One of the things that surprised me when I first read the New Testament seriously was that it talked so much about a Dark Power in the universe--a mighty evil spirit who was held to be the Power behind death and disease, and sin...  

Christianity agrees that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel.

Enemy-occupied territory--that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage." 

Christmas Eve was the night before the Great Invasion. The creatures were stirring, even the mouse. We see this upheaval in the non-happy-holiday telling of Christmas found in Revelation 12:1-7. It reads:

A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. The woman fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days. 

And there was war in heaven.

Robert Mounce says that: 
  1. The "woman" here is not Mary, but the messianic community, the "ideal Israel"
  2. Out of the messianic community is born a "child," a Messiah; 
  3. The seven-headed red dragon is Satan (Rev. 12:9; 20:2); and
  4. Satan is looking to devour this child; AKA Jesus the Christ. 

Mary has already been prophetically warned about such things. In Luke 2 we read that...

...the old man "Simeon took him [baby Jesus] in his arms and praised God, saying: "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." 

The child's father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too." 

Violent night

Holy night

All's not calm

All's not bright


Christmas Eve - that violent night when the Light of the World descended into darkness...



***
My two books are:


Thursday, December 21, 2017

Some of My Photos - and Merry Christmas!

Here are some photos I took in Monroe and Monroe County,
with some quotes.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Bolles Harbor

My back yard

River Raisin

Monroe

Monroe County

Dixon Road

River Raisin

My back yard

Monroe County

Monroe County

Monroe County

Monroe County

River Raisin dam

Monroe

River Raisin (from Plank Road)

Monroe

My back yard

Plank Road

Monroe County

My front yard

Our neighbor's yard

Merry Christmas! (Plus... two conferences)



 The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth! Jn 1:14

Celebrating Jesus...the perfect gift!

Merry Christmas and blessings, 
from the family of God at 
Holy Spirit Renewal Ministries.
REGISTRATION NOW OPEN 
Two Amazing Events
Need a unique, last minute Christmas gift? Give the gift of registration at a life-impacting Holy Spirit Renewal Ministries event. It's the gift that keeps on giving...it's a gift with eternal value. Gift your family and friends, and yourself and let the adventure begin! To learn more and to register click here for the Women's Conference. To learn more and to register click here for the Green Lake Holy Spirit Conference. 
    Women's Conference click here                     Holy Spirit Conference click here           
STAY CONNECTED:
Facebook



Many of us heard Wendy Backlund from Bethel Redding at our summer 2017 HSRM conference. Wendy will join some other excellent speakers for our HSRM Women's Conference in Dayton, March 15-17.

I will be with Michael Brown and Francis Anfuso at our summer 2018 HSRM Conference. Please pray about spending five days with us. This conference is, among all I have been to, my favorite, and the one that has most influenced Linda and I. It's more than a conference, it's a family. I invite you to be part of it!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Value of a Well-Formed Heart


Henri Nouwen writes:

"What is the value of well-trained and well-informed Christians and spiritual leaders when their hearts remain ignorant? What is the value of great theological erudition or great pastoral adeptness or intense but fleeting mystical experience or social activism when there is not a well-formed heart to guide a well-formed life?" (Nouwen, Henri J. M.; Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit; K 177)


This is a rhetorical question. The correct answer is: "None." Or, perhaps: "Little."

In the Jesus-life the heart comes before the head. Apart from a heart connected to Jesus, we can do nothing.